The best (and worst) shows & films streaming on NZ TV this month

July 26, 2023
22 mins read
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A regular column in which GARY STEEL sifts through the mountain of available streaming TV and brings your attention to great new and old shows as well as those to avoid.

See below for review of the Wham! documentary

Avatar: The Way Of Water (Disney+) 6/10

Living remotely, I didn’t see James Cameron’s epic sequel on the big screen, but instead, watched its bulging three-hours-plus over a few nights at home when it hit TV-land. The first hour is insufferably dull. It’s years since I saw the original Avatar (no, I didn’t like it much either) and needed a refresher course to understand what the hell was going on. Regardless, that first hour or so really dragged, as the forest-dwelling blue humanoids are threatened by humans turning up out of the sky, and they decide to run for the sea after dithering around for ages. The second section as they become acclimatised to their new aquatic world (and the clan with whom they must share the environment) is also fairly aimless, but at least it’s gorgeous visually. I hate to trumpet warfare, but it’s only when the bad guys arrive and our blue-skinned friends have to fight back that things accelerate.

 

In short, the last hour-and-a-half (give or take a few minutes) features some absolutely riveting action scenes and my heart was in my mouth more than a few times as they fought the bad, bad guys with what seemed like impossible odds. Like the first film, the visual effects are never less than splendid, but the Avatar series lacks the depth of storyline and mythology of a franchise like Star Wars or a proper sci-fi film like Dune. Somehow, the story is always sketchy and the characterisation (blue)-skin deep. Impossible for an old chap like myself to watch without pausing for at least one toilet stop, I find myself in two minds about Avatar: The Way Of Water. In some ways it’s a resounding failure, but the beauty of the aquatic environment and that awesome battle almost justify the admission price.

Call Me Chihiro (Netflix) 8/10

If The Makanai: Cooking For The Maiko House charmed your pants off, then Call Me Chihiro – a film about a former sex worker who now works at a bento box takeaway – might also appeal. Like that series, it has a similar low-key, refreshing aesthetic as it follows Chihiro (Kasumi Arimura) around and we experience her rather eccentric perspective on the world through her befriending of a sad old homeless man and subsequently, two schoolgirls and a mischievous but young boy whose mother is too busy working to attend to his needs.

 

This is not just another feelgood movie though, and we learn about Chihiro’s estrangement from her family and her rather odd, disengaged way of looking at love and  relationships. She’s a free spirit who appreciates all the basics that many take for granted, but is seemingly always destined to carry her loneliness with her. If you want excitement or grand drama then go elsewhere, but Call Me Chihiro, in its ambling fashion, is a wonderful human portrait with the great backdrop of a small Japanese fishing village.

The Endless (Prime Video) 6/10

Brothers Justin and Aaron Smith (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead) are struggling to make ends meet in the city and their lives are going nowhere when they receive a cassette from Camp Arcadia, a remote commune where they spent their formative years. Older brother Justin calls them a “UFO death cult” but Aaron is curious, and convinces Justin to accompany him on a visit to the remote community. At first, everything seems just dandy but soon, the weird gets going. After experiencing a bunch of odd, time-shifting incidents it becomes apparent that some of the characters are stuck in eternal loops and that there’s something very odd going on in this exact spot with its two moons.

 

Benson and Moorhead are also the producer and cinematographer respectively for this low budget 2017 film and given its constraints, they’ve figured out some creative and effectively spooky sequences. But it’s more the limitations of the screenplay than the budget that eats away on any overall impact the film might have, with a few poor acting performances further puncturing the overall verdict. It meanders too much and tells us too little and ultimately still leaves us guessing, which builds up a sense of boredom and frustration in the viewer.

The Ghost Of Richard Harris (Neon) 8/10

Neon has gone one step better by now including selections from Sky’s art film Rialto channel as well as its Arts channel, from which this excellent 2022 documentary covering the life of actor/singer Richard Harris emanates. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan but who could resist wanting to know the story of the actor who collaborated with Jimmy Webb and in 1968, had one of the most bizarre one-off hits in the history of popular music with the preposterous but appealing ‘Macarthur’s Park’? The rest of Harris’s life and career is just as audacious, and it’s fascinating to learn just how unrepentant he was about his life full of drinking and womanising.

 

It turns out that Harris was a talented rugby player as a teen, and that was his world until he contracted TB and spent a year in hospital. Acting was a freak discovery which he pursued with vigour, and his larger than life persona quickly made him a sensation in theatre and eventually, film. The Ghost Of Richard Harris ably explains all this, aided by dollops of footage from his movies and interviews and of course, a variety of talking heads: friends and collaborators and drinking buddies. His attitude to life is refreshingly something between rampant hedonism and outright nihilism, but what really makes the documentary work are the sometimes emotional sequences with Harris’s sons, who visit a lock-up containing the actor’s “stuff”… mementos and scribblings.

The Great Indian Kitchen (Prime Video) 6/10

Not the glossy 2023 remake but the original 2021 Malayalam language version, The Great Indian Kitchen tells the story of a new wife (played by dancer Nimisha Sajayan) whose life dramatically changes to become one of utter drudgery and subservience. She’s married into a well-respected and very religious family where the men are lazy bastards who expect the women of the household to be slaves to their every whim. It’s a frighteningly patriarchal system that belongs in the dark ages and it’s shocking that such a state of things exists in the 21st century, even down to treating women like lepers when they menstruate. As the title suggests, at least 90 percent of the action occurs in the kitchen, where she is forever preparing food and cleaning up after meals. A few scenes take place elsewhere in the house, including the unpleasant sexual duty, devoid of sensuality or foreplay.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bo_9YZIe2Ik

 

In contrast to the glamour of Bollywood movies The Great Indian Kitchen drives home its very political point by exposing the sheer drudgery of it all, and it can hardly be described as an entertaining watch. The kitchen scenes – including the food preparation – did feel authentic though, and the rustic nature of the room and indeed the whole situation will be an eye-opener to those of us who live with all the modern conveniences. I can’t imagine that this scenario is indicative of India today but clearly there are still pockets of humanity stuck in a religious/patriarchal time-warp, and I guess films like this need to be made to represent the necessary reaction against it.

The Harry Smith Project Live (Prime Video) 6/10

Hal Willner curated a number of themed projects featuring fascinating all-star casts of singers and musicians over the past few decades, and The Harry Smith Project Live is a 2006 film of several different staged events celebrating the Anthology Of American Folk Music that idiosyncratic and somewhat eccentric musicologist/filmmaker/painter Harry Smith put together in the 1960s. Smith travelled all over America hunting down rare 78s of folk and blues and his careful and enthusiastic project meant that Americans would forever have a record (literally!) of where the nation came from musically. Willner’s concerts in 1999 featured his always fascinating choice of musicians to perform their own interpretations of the songs, many of them originally released in the 1920s. Performers include Elvis Costello, Beck, Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Steve Earle, Sonic Youth, Richard Thompson and many, many more. Over more than two hours the film manages to include snippets of an interview with Harry Smith himself along with several of his short films from the 1940s, but the majority of its running time is spent on stage with various odd ensembles and pairings, some of which work much better than others.

 

It’s a pity the film hasn’t been remastered because both the visual (box screen) and sound suffers somewhat, but the artist roster is so far-reaching that there are inevitably some quite compelling moments. Ultimately, the emphasis is a little too much on artists from the New York cool school and I couldn’t help wondering why the performers were almost all white, bassist Percy Heath and clarinettist Don Byron being amongst the few African-American musicians shown. The big surprise for me was the very last song: ‘Fishing Blues’ sung by extremely rotund but completely brilliant Pere Ubu singer/writer David Thomas with an amazing string quartet-style backing featuring the likes of Percy Heath and Van Dyke Parks. There’s a sense of sadness watching these 20-something year old performances and realising that a fair chunk of the performers have already left us, including producer Hal Willner, who died in 2020 from complications of Covid-19.

The Idol (Neon) 8/10

Created by Sam Levinson of the critically acclaimed series Euphoria, The Idol is about an emotionally fragile young pop singer-cum-celebrity Jocelyn (Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose) whose life and career is suddenly taken over by the persuasive and somewhat threatening impresario Tedros (Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd). When Tedros – who has a long rap sheet for violent crime –  moves into her mansion with a mixed bag of hangers-on things get really strange and her traditional management and record company really freak out.

As some critics have pointed out there’s something tawdry about the overt way the sexual escapades are depicted, and the somehow shocking level of nudity, drug use and coercion. But I think they’ve got it wrong: it’s a tawdry scenario, so why depict it any other way? Why not go full-out and everything with a level of voyeurism that exists in the story? While Euphoria was rightly acclaimed for its sometimes shockingly in-your-face depiction of teenage drug addiction as well as its very 21st century depiction of non-binary individuals, The Idol is being slammed for portraying, well.. an idol! Brilliantly shot and audacious in its willingness to change the tone and the duration of its scenes at will, dependent on what’s happening in the story at the time, The Idol is one of the most compelling shows of 2023.

Look Away (Prime Video) 5/10

This slick Canadian psychological thriller from 2019 stars the gorgeous India Eisley (I Am The Night) as Maria, an introverted and bullied high school student whose dad is a controlling plastic surgeon and mum is so submissive that she turns a blind eye to her husband’s frequent infidelities. Maria, who becomes increasingly unhinged, starts talking with her evil doppelganger in the mirror and eventually, she’s convinced to switch places. Murder and mayhem ensues.

 

Of course, we’re never sure whether the naughty mirror-image Maria really exists or whether she’s just part of her psychosis, but after a first half in which she’s subjected to a series of humiliations – even an excruciating scene at the school prom where she falls on the ice-skating rink and is purposely dragged across the ice while the assembled do absolutely nothing to help her – she turns the tables and embarks on some sweet revenge. The problem is that, for all its visual style, this is well-trodden territory and it all falls a bit flat, with few real thrills and one of those endings that just leaves you hanging, going “WTF?” It’s also just a little bit pervy as well, with dollops of gratuitous nudity.

Moonage Daydream (Prime Video) 5/10

Watching Moonage Daydream on the small screen is sobering. It’s like watching a two hour and 15 minutes trailer for a film that doesn’t really exist. Clearly, the whole vacuous exercise was predicated on the impact it would have on an iMax screen, where the sonic and visual effects cut into the old footage would take on a life of their own. In a way, the film is as piecemeal and frustratingly superficial as Bowie’s entire career, but dedicated fans will doubtless use its excesses as confirmation that their ch-ch-changeable star was indeed a gift from the gods.

Nobody really needs yet another David Bowie documentary, so it’s not surprising perhaps that the producers of Moonage Daydream chose not to tell the story with conventional narrative but through clever manipulation and editing of existing concert, interview and other contextual footage. They’ve succeeded in painting a picture of a larger than life figure who set out to challenge the norms and use his particular skillset and interests to foster a series of characters that unfortunately, somewhat eclipsed the music he was making. Yes, there are some astute quotes from the late icon and it’s easy to see why he appealed on so many levels. But as vicariously exciting as this bloated epic must have been on a big screen, it’s ultimately an empty experience, and an overtly promotional one.

Next Gen (Netflix) 7/10

It’s been a little hard to find top-flight animated films on Netflix lately, now that so many of the better ones have migrated to Disney+ and other streaming services. Watching 2018 film Next Gen was a bit of a punt, but both the kids and the parents ended up enjoying the experience. This unlikely combined Canadian/American/Chinese production was made entirely using the Blender open source animation software tool, but looks like a million dollars (or more). Mai Su is a lonely girl who has built up a head of steam after being teased by other kids. She lives in a future where robots are commonplace and when she meets and befriends a weaponized robot called 7723 she sets out to get revenge on her peers. But there’s more afoot. On the one hand, an evil robot convincingly pretending to be human wants to destroy him, and on the other, 7723 chooses the worst possible moment to de-weaponize when he realises that otherwise, with a bloated memory, he will have to get rid of many of his cherished memories of Mai Su.

Next Gen has an odd structure and its pacing is rather variable, but personally, I found that refreshing. The first half is all about the discovery of the robot and the building friendship, and then things just go ballistic, with full-on battle scenes towards the end that surprise because they’re so unexpected. I’m not sure that kids under six years old would really get it, but the film has a great moral message and a slightly philosophical aspect that worked for the grownups in the room. And there are regular humorous asides, too. Proof that there are gems in the back catalogues of some of the streaming giants.

Nimona (Netflix) 8/10

Sometimes, it feels like production companies financing animated features hate kids. There’s such a production-line of average crap with almost interchangeable/lookalike characters and themes that for a parent, they can start to all blend together. Nimona is something else. Despite having a troubled birth (its original production company went out of business and the film was cancelled, before being rescued and revived and sold to Netflix), here’s a film that succeeds in every way: the style of the animation – obviously influenced by Japanese anime – is radically different to the norm and yet it works beautifully, the story based in a kind of medieval world with gadgetry avoids just about all the usual cliches, and despite its departures from the typical, it holds the attention for the full 99 minutes of its duration.

The story is about Ballister Boldheart, who is accused of murdering his queen at his own knighthood (a set-up, of course). He goes into hiding, and meets a young girl, a shapeshifter called Nimona – who may or may not be the personification of evil – who helps him stay alive and ultimately find the perpetrator of the dastardly deed. It’s a deeply moral story, and some of the deeper meanings may elude younger kids. There’s also a bit of violence and a few scary bits that sensitive young monsters might find a bit disturbing, but mine (at 4 and 8 respectively) loved it.

One Cut Of The Dead (AMC/Shudder) 7/10

The zombie phenomenon got out of hand some years back, making it hard not to be immune to any fright/gore value in a zombie film or TV series, regardless of how well it’s done. I’m a big fan of Romero’s original two zombie films (Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead) and still regard them as the high water mark of the genre. A friend recommended that I watch this 2017 Japanese flick, which cleverly satirises not only zombie movies but pokes the borax at a film crew and actors, and by doing so, implicates the viewer too.

One Cut Of The Dead starts out with a grisly scene being shot over and over at a creepy abandoned industrial complex, and soon the fake zombies are joined by real zombies. I’m not going to reveal too much because the film consists of a seemingly endless series of clever tricks and twists that you need not to be aware of to enjoy it fully. It’s probably enough to say that obsessed zombie fans might find it frustrating, as it ultimately satirises them, and there’s a chunky section explaining the (fictional) film’s genesis (and therefore, featuring no gore or zombies). If you enjoy films that constantly pull the rug from beneath your feet and then laugh at you when you fall, then One Cut Of The Dead comes highly recommended.

Playground (Prime Video) 7/10

Not something you’d watch for its entertainment value – warning: there is none – this documentary is an examination of child sex abuse in America and yeah, at times it’s hard to watch. Though it was made in 2009 and some of details in the legal system may have changed, Playground is worthy for both the (often surprising) information it brings up and the thoughtful way it approaches the subject. We learn that worryingly, America leads the world in child sex abuse statistics. We follow the stories of several of the abused and learn how incredibly difficult it is for someone who has been abused as a child to come out of that horror and turn their lives around. Especially tragic is the story of Michelle, who was institutionalised and abused throughout her childhood, and when interviewed, a 15-year-old mother with a drug habit.

 

As the documentary progresses the enormity of the problem starts to sink in, as it looks at the issue from various angles. In a section about the abusers, it asks the legitimate question: why do men abuse children? One expert says that only 20 percent of abusers are real paedophiles and the other 80 percent simply never learned genuine empathy, or how to delay gratification, which of course, is characteristic of children. She notes that it’s not what happened to them, it’s what didn’t: in most cases “these men were never shown the path to sexual respect.” The documentary’s emphasis, however, is rightly on the victims and the issues that exist, to prevent the crimes occurring in the first place. Watching Playground won’t take you to your happy place, but it’s an important subject that deserves deep thought and discussion.

Police Are Blundering In The Dark (AMC/Shudder) 7/10

Old exploitation movies are hard to come by on the usual streaming outlets, so it’s good to see that Prime Video has a bunch and Shudder has a few juicy examples of the giallo genre, like this hilariously titled and very entertaining 1975 Italian slasher. When beautiful models start vanishing from the countryside, a novice journalist starts investigating, and ends up staying at the mansion of a wheelchair-bound fashion photographer and his highly dysfunctional friends and family. The usual tropes of exploitation films apply: gloriously excessive and unwarranted nudity, plot holes that leave gigantic question marks, scenes that last way too long or not nearly long enough, and uneven acting performances.

 

But unlike so many American b-movies, Police Are Blundering In The Dark is  filmed and edited with a degree of creativity. That, together with some genuinely creepy rural scenarios and its ‘70s colour palette, make for a very entertaining diversion. By turns pretty good and fabulously bad, with its surplus of titties and very fake gore, this no-name feature is well worth a look for those seeking a break from the slick ordinariness of most new productions.

Possessor (AMC/Shudder) 6/10

Being a longtime admirer of David Cronenberg’s twisted films, I was curious to see view Possessor, a critically acclaimed “science fiction psychological horror film” by the director’s son. Hmm. Visually, the movie is vivid and at times quite shockingly gory, with a parade of deaths and mutilations. The editing, special effects and camera work are splendid. Starring Andrea Riseborough (Brighton Rock, The Grudge) as an assassin who somehow does her dastardly deeds by controlling other people’s bodies, and featuring well-knowns Sean Bean and Jennifer Jason Leigh in supporting roles, I can understand why it’s well-regarded by a certain type of cinephile.

 

On paper, it’s the sort of movie I would like. Except I didn’t. Call me dumb, but I found it hard to know what the heck was going on some of the time, with a confusing narrative and a lack of character development that made Possessor seem more like an extended shock-horror video clip than a real film. Then again, perhaps I was just having an off-night or was too tired to get the gist of a film that’s scored well on aggregator sites and had great reviews. The Atlantic had this to say: “Cronenberg isn’t just looking to provoke with blood and guts- like all good dystopian fiction, Possessor offers disturbing and timely observations about the world we already live in.”

Silo (Apple+) 7/10

When I first heard about this series I was deterred by memories of that dull and rather infuriating show Under The Dome, where a community is suddenly cut off by an invisible force-field. Silo is a different kettle of fish entirely, with one similarity in that seemingly, the whole of humanity are living (and trapped within) an enormous underground silo-type structure after a devastating event 140 years before. There’s a lot to recommend it, including the terrific set designs, which spookily capture the infernal central staircase leading to different levels and the strange, aged burrow-like living quarters. This is sci-fi, but there’s nothing futuristic about it. Instead, the systems that run the silo are ageing and breaking down and a few dissidents are (dangerously) questioning the need to stay within the structure.

 

It’s a decent human drama with a moral point to make about repression of facts and the way we tend to set up authoritarian command centres to “protect” the people, but the best thing about Silo is Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen, Mission Impossible) as Juliette Nichols, an engineer down in the bowels of the silo keeping ailing systems working who through a series of unfortunate events who is chosen as the new sheriff. Veteran actor Tim Robbins (Mystic River) is suitably creepy as the evil head of an organisation that appears to control even the sheriff’s department. Dialogue-based with the odd spot of nail-biting action, the 10 episodes of Silo make for a fairly compelling watch. A second series has been confirmed.

Somebody Somewhere (Neon) 10/10

Loosely based on actor Bridget Everett’s own story of life in a sleepy Kansas town called (hilariously) Manhattan, the two seasons of Somebody Somewhere find her (or Sam as she’s called here) in a 40-something slump six months after the death of a sister and dealing with a complete sense of disillusionment with life and the universe. But if that sounds depressing, it’s ultimately quite the opposite. Striking up an unlikely friendship with the flamboyantly gay Joel (Jeff Hiller), she’s welcomed by the predominantly rainbow community who run “choir practice” (with cocktails and a good deal of partying on down) at the local church. A talented singer who lacked the confidence to follow her dreams, this motley ensemble encourage Sam to find her voice.

 

The 14 short episodes of Somebody Somewhere are beautifully balanced between genuine drama and laugh-out-loud lines and antics that are a bit bawdy at times but always deeply human. The nonchalant style of the filming gives it an almost documentary patina, which makes it all feel real, and it’s impossible not to love the variety of flawed but fabulous cast members, including Sam’s farmer dad (played by Mike Haggerty of Friends who sadly died before Season 2) and spiteful sister Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison of Veep). But Everett – who spent 20 years working in restaurants before she broke through as a comedian and singer in real life – steals the show with her wit, passion and sheer personality. Easily my favourite show of 2023 so far.

Sweet Tooth (Netflix) 6/10

There’s something deeply unsatisfying about Sweet Tooth, despite it having an appealing premise and promo videos that cleverly hook you in. I didn’t much like the first series but somehow found myself watching the second, hoping that it would be a little more engaging than the first. Happily, there’s a lot more action and the intensity level really ratchets up towards the end of the series (a third and final series is promised), but still, its inherent problem lingers. Set in a dystopian future where most of civilization has perished due to a killer virus, we learn that the para-military Last Men are tracking down and killing sweet children, who happen to be mutant human-animal hybrids. The key kid character is Gus (Christian Convery) who is half-deer, and he’s as cute as a button.

 

The show, however, gets frequently mired in the boring amateur dramatics of a doctor (irritatingly played by Adeel Akhtar) who is feebly trying to find a cure so that his wife, who has the virus, might live. In fact, most of the adult roles are sabotaged by either poor writing or over/under-acting, and this is especially true of Nonso Anozie as a former hybrid child-killer turned protector of Gus whose guilt is thrashed out at exasperating length. Supposedly popular with children, Sweet Tooth is too gruesome and too frequently boring for younger kids. While the series has its moments, the only really compelling reason for watching it is the fact that it’s shot in New Zealand, and features a bunch of local talent, including singer-songwriter Marlon Williams.

Veronica (Netflix) 7/10

Supposedly based on a real story, this 2017 Spanish movie might sound like it’s modelled on a standard horror template (schoolgirls fool around with Ouija board, terrifying consequences ensue) but it’s actually a terrific piece of film-making. Directed by horror specialist Paco Plaza, Veronica is styled more like a cross between a docudrama and an art film. The camera observes the small details of life for 15-year-old Veronica (sensationally played by Sandra Escacena), who struggles to play mum to her three young siblings while her mother works, and is seldom home to do anything other than sleep.

 

Shot with real flair, the humdrum everyday existence of this struggling family unit makes the horror, when it comes, all the more effective. Set in the early ‘90s, it’s hard to ignore the film’s implicit criticism of the physically and emotionally unavailable mum (and perhaps a system that makes it necessary for solo mums to work so hard for the survival of the family). While the all-hell-breaks-loose crescendo never quite reaches the intensity some might expect, there are some genuinely creepy moments to this film, which should be commended due to its determination to avoid the usual numbing genre cliches.

Wham! (Netflix) 10/10

It’s rare to come across a music documentary that warms the cockles of your heart, and I wasn’t expecting that from a film about a duo whose music never appealed to me, at all. In the early 1980s, when former school buddies George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley made it big in the UK with their naïve and infectious early singles, I was a serious young man who looked down on teeny pop and couldn’t see past my blind spot to see anything worthwhile about Wham, a duo who I assumed were fabricated by the star-making machinery to meet an assumed bopper demand. This new Netflix documentary shows that I was wrong, and charts the friendship between Michael and Ridgeley from the age of 12 and their guileless determination to make it in the pop world.

The brilliant mechanism it uses is Ridgley’s Mum’s year-by-year scrapbook of Wham’s progress, which makes the viewer feel close to the excitement of those years. Director Chris Smith has shown his genius at capturing the key ingredients in brilliant films like American Movie and Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, and his definitive telling of the Wham story accesses a wealth of brilliant footage, along with extensive dialogue from both Ridgeley and Michael about their journey. Especially poignant is the telling of Ridgeley’s eventual irrelevance in Wham as Michael’s singing, writing and production skills become dominant. Michael’s painful personal journey towards outing himself in a time when homosexuality was still forbidden is also an important part of the story. I’m still not a fan of their music, but the Wham! Documentary is well worth seeing regardless.

Zappa (DocPlay) 8/10

If you’ve always wondered what the big deal was about Frank Zappa but found it hard to get to grips with the almost unfathomably wide reach of his music, then this feature length documentary on the late composer/guitarist may not make you a fan, but it will provide plenty of fascinating insight on both Zappa’s motivations and what dedicated appreciators might call “Zappa’s universe”. An officially endorsed Zappa family film, Zappa was directed by long-time admirer Alec Winter (Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure), who had access to hundreds of hours of unique footage found in Zappa’s famed underground bunker. The composer himself is a rich source of articulate interviews, but it’s the story itself of a young man growing up in the California desert and his determined exploration and experimentation of music forms that really capture his passion.

 

While looking at Zappa as a man of his times (he was born in 1940 and died in 1993 at the age of 52) he’s critiqued for his chauvinism without, unfortunately, pointing out that for all his admitted sexual peccadillos, he was also a gentleman who took female musicians seriously in an era where it was rare to do so. Instead, it might have been more meaningful to discuss his poor eating habits and chain smoking. The most affecting sequence is the extended interview with percussionist Ruth Underwood (who played in Zappa’s band during the 1970s) who clearly loved him dearly and takes the trouble to perform an eye-wateringly beautiful piece of his music that few would have even noticed amongst the crazy stuff that he was renowned for. As a huge Zappa fan I would have liked more emphasis on the music, loads more detail and better Zappa interview quotes than they chose,  but Zappa strikes a fairly good balance in its attempt at an overview of a complex character who remains largely misunderstood. Read my full review of this movie here: https://witchdoctor.co.nz/index.php/2021/03/zappa-review/

 

  • A regular column in which Gary Steel assesses the worth – or otherwise – of the vast trove available to stream. Unlike other media, our policy is to dig deep and go further than just Netflix or what’s new this week.

 

 

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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